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How can a call center practically move forward without the benefit of complete organizational integration? Read on to understand my question.

I am looking at the relationship between the customer experience and the integration of the call center with the rest of the organization. I have found research that identifies different customer experience strategies-defined by the complexity of the customer experience (i.e., Is the company going for a simple interaction with minimal emotional content all the way to the “destination” experience like Disneyland?). Research also indicates that the more complex the experience strategy, the more integration required by the organization (integration with sales, marketing, etc.). I’m looking at research that is about services, not call center specifically. What do you think about this supposition (the research is supported through a good case base analysis).

Here is where I am getting stuck. It is a question of “how.” For the past 10-15 years we have all have heard the importance of the call center being integrated with the rest of the organization. Customer centricity, customer relationship management (CRM), & customer experience drove the notion that to be successful we all had to be working as one system. The problem, in my mind, is that very few organizations have achieved a high level of integration. Do you agree or disagree?

If, as a call center industry, we are still struggling with this integration into the rest of the organization how do we move forward? Do we have to wait for this organizational integration to happen? And/or do we have to adjust our customer experience strategy (either organization-wide or call center specific) so the integration requirements are less stringent? Is it even possible to have a customer experience strategy that is call center specific (i.e., without having an aligned organization-wide customer experience strategy)?

Can the call center initiate some customer experience changes without the integration with other areas of the organization? If it is possible, is this a wise move? Does any type of customer experience strategy require the whole organization’s involvement (even if minimal versus optimum involvement)?

Thanks for helping me figure out if there are any practical (i.e., effective) moves a call center manager can make if integration with the rest of the organization is not a reality in their organization right now.

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Kathryn,

To answer the overarching question first, yes, to succeed as a company/organization ,all internal resources need to be aligned in support of the creation of customers. Typically, you need to plan for pre-customer creation, the sale , conversion from trial consumption to ongoing customer, customer maintenance (ongoing nurturing, reminders of what a great decision they've made, romancing the customer with free unexpected rewards), at-risk customer retention, and customer reacquisition if they stop being customers.

Unfortunately, if the organization is not philosophically aligned with the above vision, then it's relatively difficult for a call center exec to be a change agent.
My suggestion for the call center exec is to do some research have some lengthy conversations with the Chief Marketing Officer (if possible) and together talk to the Chief Sales Officer (they're likely to be open to the idea that to build customers it's in their best interest to align their sales process with customer service (ultimately the sales folk's success is not measure by sales, but by customers!).

I you can align enough individuals the next step is to approach the top individual and present the idea of a becoming a customer centric organization.

If that doesn't try to suggest a target market workshop with a good marketing workshop.

Len Fernandez
Experienced Sales, Marketing, Consolidation, Call Center (Inbound/Outbound -B2B/B2C) Executive - fluent in Spanish
Hi Kathryn. I don;t see how the call center, no matter how enlightened the leadership, can do this on their own. No call center is self-contained and few actually own the customer or product.

I think Len has some excellent suggestions. The call center can take the iniative to start the conversatioin and support the change (and often has more people with the skills and mindset to accomplish process change and manage projects than marketing or sales) but the group that owns the customers and the products will have to agree to become customer-centric.

Mark E. Behrens
President, TriSynergy Consulting LLC and Management Consultant mbehrens@trisynergyllc.com - Twitter: TriSynergyLLC
While I agree with the above comments, I also believe that there are few companies who achieve this level of customer centricity.

In our organization, we are fortunate to have a CEO who has laid out a vision as to how we want customers to experience us. While Marketing, Sales, and Operations may have other priorities, we moved forward with developing our Call Center Strategy around the vision our CEO set. We then focused on the people, processes and technology that we needed to achieve our goal. While we may be limited due to resources on technology and some process improvements, we have made improvements in what we could control and influence. Our biggest impact, of course, is our people. We invested much time and energy into ensuring we had the structure from which to launch. We developed qualtiy, training and workforce management goals and set a service level objective of 80/20 by interval. We then communicated, communicated and communicated what it was we were trying to achieve. We created rewards and recognition programs that not only rewarded performance, but also drove the positive behavioral changes in the staff that aligned with our goals.

The result, we have a highly engaged an productive workforce, our turnover rate is in the low 20's, our customer retention rates exceed goal and our external quality customer surveys confirm that interactions with our customer service staff is friendly, helpful, honest, and passionate. "I care" comes across the phones, no matter what Marketing is, or isn't doing.

Debbie Carter
Sr. Director, Operations at VPI Pet Insurance
Debbie - I agree completely that few companies achieve the goal described above. I'd also agree that in my experience the support of leadership and a focus on people are far more important than process and technology.

That said, at the end of the day, the customer experience is mroe than just the contacts with the call center - product design and branding expectations set up tthe customer experience and usually there are more touchpoints than only those that the call center handles. None of this is to diminish the importance of the touchpoints that the call center handles - just to say that unless Marketing and Sales are on board too along with Manufacturing and Distribution, in most cases the call center staff will be constrained in what they can do to make the "I care" message more than just words.

Mark E. Behrens
President, TriSynergy Consulting LLC and Management Consultant mbehrens@trisynergyllc.com - Twitter: TriSynergyLLC
Great comments. I think the overarching opinion is that, in the end, there has to be some alignment to achieve a great customer experience (because the experience is an end to end process and not just the call center. The organizations that have the alignment of forces inside the company find it much easier to demonstrate a caring environment for the customer.

I just posted to another group the following thoughts about this as well. It's about "failure demand" (demands caused by a failure to do something or do something right for the customer’in the contact center). This is where I think we (current and historical) call center managers found many of our frustrating moments. For example, let's say we get tons of calls after billing because our company's bills are difficult to read. Customers call month after month to figure out what it is telling them and to argue its validity. Although call center management can prove the correlation of high volume to billing (i.e., failure demand), the organization may decide not to simplify the bill. As a consultant, I have seen many companies decide to take the calls rather than redesign the bill.

Is part of our problem that some organizations have misdefined the purpose of the call center? Is that what causes this type of conflicting analysis and conclusion (i.e., what call center management - and dare I say the customer? -assess as "failure demand" the senior management team defines as "acceptable performance")?

A while ago I wrote an article about service level (the old 80% in 20 seconds metric). I saw that there were usually conflicts with the performance standand required and the staffing levels allowed. The organization wanted a high service level but would not give the budget to meet it - often claiming productivity gains should make it possible.

The global view of "providing a great customer experience" and yet not addressing interdepartmental issues to solve demand failure is starting to feel like the same thing to me.

What are the practical steps a call center manager should take when the solution to predictable failure demand falls outside his area and it seems as if the recommendations are falling on deaf ears? What if there seems to be no tangible alignment/integration? Should he take "the higher ground" and address the management strategy/objectives; starting with the systems view first? Or, is it more feasible to simply address a different demand failure and pick his battles at a more tactical level?

Kathryn Jackson

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